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Azerbaijan Remembers Heroes of Second Karabakh War

By Nargiz Mammadli September 27, 2023

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Since 2021, the date of September 27 is marked as the Remembrance Day in Azerbaijan, to honor the memories of the heroes of the Second Karabakh War / APA

Today, Azerbaijan marks Remembrance Day, honoring the memories of the heroes who lost their lives fighting in the Second Karabakh War, also known as the “Patriotic War.”

The war, which lasted 44 days in 2020, saw Azerbaijani forces liberate the lands from nearly three decades of illegal occupation by Armenia.

Armenia and Azerbaijan had been in an armed conflict over the latter's Karabakh (Garabagh) region since the early 1990s when Armenia launched full-blown military aggression against Azerbaijan. The bloody war lasted until a ceasefire in 1994 and saw Armenia occupying 20 percent of Azerbaijan’s internationally recognized territories. Over 30,000 Azerbaijanis were killed, and one million were expelled from those lands in a brutal ethnic cleansing policy conducted by Armenia.

Armenia's authorities failed to fulfill the UN Security Council's four resolutions demanding the immediate complete and unconditional withdrawal of the occupying forces from the Azerbaijani lands and the return of internally displaced Azerbaijanis to their native lands. The lack of international pressure on Armenia and three decades of ineffective mediation by the OSCE Minsk Group resulted in a dead-end in fetching a lasting solution to the conflict.

Despite consecutive calls that Azerbaijan made on regional and international platforms for a political solution to the conflict, neither Armenia nor the global community took the necessary measures. As a result, illegal occupation lasting for decades, as well as Armenia’s aggressive “new war for new lands” doctrine, pushed the conflict toward an inevitable military clash.

Second Karabakh War

A threat of a new war emerged as Armenia refused to put an end to the conflict diplomatically, regularly fueling provocative rhetoric and staging sabotage and infiltration attempts. Armenia deliberately disrupted the negotiations and created obstacles by making unacceptable demands and undermining the format of negotiations that had already existed for over 20 years. Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan's provocative remarks and attempts to change the format of negotiations thwarted all efforts to resolve the conflict peacefully.

In August 2019, Pashinyan visited the occupied Azerbaijani region, where he delivered a provocative speech saying "Artsakh [the name Armenia uses to refer to the Karabakh region] is Armenia. Period." He also urged for a so-called unification between Armenia and the Karabakh region by reviving the notorious “miatsum” (unification) slogan, which was used by Armenian nationalists during the First Karabakh War.

In July 2020, short but bloody hostilities broke out on the Armenia-Azerbaijan border near the latter's western Tovuz region. According to Armenian military analyst, Van Hambardzumyan, the Armenian side triggered the clashes by shooting at Azerbaijani servicemen patrolling along the frontier. Intensive skirmishes resulted in the deaths of 12 Azerbaijani servicemen, including a major-general and a colonel, and one civilian.

Shortly after the border incident, the Armenian military dispatched a sabotage group to infiltrate the Azerbaijani positions in the western Goranboy district. Azerbaijani servicemen foiled the attempt and captured the sabotage-reconnaissance group’s commander, Lieutenant Gurgin Alberyan, who admitted to the crime.

On September 27, 2020, the decades-old conflict between the two countries ultimately spiraled after Armenia’s forces deployed in the occupied Azerbaijani lands shelled military positions and civilian settlements of Azerbaijan. Azerbaijani forces took immediate counter-measures to push back the offensive. The Defense Ministry of Azerbaijan announced the start of counter-offensive operations “to prevent the combat activity of the enemy troops and secure the safety of civilians” coming under fire.

During the 44-day counter-attack operation, dubbed “Iron Fist,” Azerbaijani forces liberated over 300 settlements, including the cities of Jabrayil, Fuzuli, Zangilan, Gubadli, and Shusha. The ultimate blow to the resistance of the Armenian troops was the liberation of the Shusha city on November 8. The city’s liberation after 28 years of occupation was said to be crucial in the retreat of the Armenian forces and the end of hostilities. The war ended in a tripartite statement signed on November 10, 2020, by Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Russia. Under the statement, Armenia also returned the occupied Aghdam, Kalbajar, and Lachin districts to Azerbaijan.

“It is a historic day for our country today,” President Ilham Aliyev said following the signing of the document, adding that an end was being put to the conflict.

“We have destroyed almost all of their [Armenia’s] military hardware. We have breached the fortifications they had built for 30 years. Our soldiers have broken through them like lions. They have crushed the enemy and were right to do so because they are on their land. We abide by international law. We respect international law,” he added, saying the tripartite statement was “actually tantamount to Armenia's military capitulation”.

Post-war developments

The outcomes of the 2020 war established an all-new reality in the region. The Azerbaijani authorities have repeatedly stated that the conflict is irreversibly over, paving the way for joint efforts to reach a peace agreement between Azerbaijan and Armenia based on mutual recognition of each other's sovereignty and territorial integrity.

The tripartite statement sets conditions for the restoration of all economic and transport links in the region. Armenian authorities have assumed to guarantee the safety of transport links between the western regions of Azerbaijan and the Nakhchivan region, an Azerbaijani exclave in the southwest of the country. Nakhchivan is supposed to be linked to Azerbaijan’s mainland via an all-new route called Zangazur Corridor. Azerbaijan, in turn, will open its territory to ensuring railway links between Armenia and Russia, as well as Armenia and Iran.

However, the Armenian authorities have been rejecting negotiations on the opening of the corridor. On the contrary, since May 2021, Yerevan has repeatedly provoked new clashes on the state border with Azerbaijan. In November 2021, the Azerbaijani military prevented hundreds of armed Armenian servicemen from crossing the state border.

Subsequently, Baku called on Yerevan to immediately launch negotiations for the delimitation and demarcation of the borderline, and in February 2022, Baku submitted to Armenia a proposal containing five basic principles related to the peace negotiations between the two countries.

However, the Armenian authorities did not properly reciprocate the peace calls from Azerbaijan. Yerevan insisted on granting a so-called “status” for the Armenian residents of the Karabakh region of Azerbaijan. Simultaneously, the formations of the Armenian military in the Karabakh region did not withdrew despite Armenia’s legally binding obligations addressed in the trilateral statement of 2020. In addition, the Armenian forces escalated tensions on the interstate border into bloody skirmishes, including in September 2021.

Yerevan also continued to support the illegal separatist regime in the Azerbaijani sovereign territories militarily and financially. The Lachin road connecting Armenia with the Karabakh Armenians was used for illegal arms supplies to the separatists. After Azerbaijan’s establishment of a checkpoint at the highway’s entrance, the deliveries were shifted to dirt roads bypassing the Lachin road. In March 2023, a deadly confrontation took place between the Armenian saboteurs and the Azerbaijani servicemen.

Heavily militarized formations of the Armenian army in the Karabakh region conducted terrorist-sabotage operations in August 2022 to infiltrate the territories controlled by Azerbaijan in the Kalbajar and Lachin districts. The responsive measures taken by the Azerbaijan Armed Forces codenamed “Operation Revenge”, prevented the advancement of the Armenian troops.

The armed provocations against Azerbaijan, including frequent shelling and acts of terrorism involving landmines, prompted anti-terrorism measures by the Azerbaijani Armed Forces on September 19 to neutralize illegal Armenian armed groups and their military infrastructure in the Karabakh region. The one-day operation until September 20 disabled army formations and military infrastructure of Armenia in the Karabakh region of Azerbaijan.

The counter-terrorism measures concluded after the Armenian military formations agreed to full disarmament by laying down arms, handing over the military hardware and withdrawing from their battle positions and military outposts. Armenia's armed forces were also obligated to leave Azerbaijani territory, and illegal Armenian armed groups were to be disbanded. Currently, the Azerbaijan Armed Forces, in coordination with the Russian peacekeepers in the Karabakh region, continues confiscating weapons, ammunition, and equipment from the Armenian military formations.